Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hey Cinderella: Buy Your Own Glass Slipper & Other Tips from Town & Country Readers

Don't wait for the Fairy Godmother or Prince Charming to deliver the glass slipper or other trophies of wealth & status. Don't expect fairy tale endings and don't pretend to be Cinderella. That's just a snippet of the great financial advice from the 12-page special section on "Women & Wealth" in the February issue of Town & Country.

I purchased my copy at the drugstore, but many libraries also carry subscriptions. Or go to your favorite bookstore, where they let you read the magazines for free. The Feb. issue of T&C is a good read for anyone (including the guys) with an interest in building and maintaining wealth. The special section includes: Best Advice I've Ever Received About Money, which features tips from readers. Here's a summary:

1. College Plan for Baby Cinderella: One reader told a touching but insightful tale about her dad, who died when she was four. One day, he read the classic tale Cinderella --you know the deal: the girl, the slipper, the fairy godmother and the prince. Here's what happened when the pre-schooler's dad completed the fairy tale ending about financial salvation through marriage:

The Little Girl:"But what if the glass slipper didn't fit her?"

The Dad: "That's why you're going to Wellseley, so you can always buy your own glass slipper."

2. Keep yourself warm: Scenario: A 20-something woman told an older female friend that she wanted a man to buy her a fur coat. The mentor's advice: "Be able to buy your own fur coat."

The outcome: After receiving that savvy advice, the younger woman ultimately earned enough money to buy three fur coats for herself.

3. The Stocking Hedge: One reader reported that her mom told her to hold onto different shares of stock as a "financial hedge."

The outcome: Those shares, the reader reported, "have consistently paid."

4. Establish a stock-loss point: "I was once told that when your stock is down, you have not lost unless you sell." --T&C Reader

The outcome: She learned to establish stock-loss points and exit strategies for investments. Here's what the reader says: "I watch my stock and set a parameter to be met before I am willing to part with it."

5. The Intersting Beauty: Scenario: One reader told a story about how -- when she was in third-grade -- her stepfather established a bank account for her with $100. Every month, he showed her the bank statement and pointed out how much money her money was making in interest.

The outcome: "This taught me early on the value of compound interest and being aware of my own money." -- T&C Reader


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gas Survey: $4 a Gallon by Summer?

This news item about $4 a gallon summer gas prices caught my attention:

"A new national opinion survey -- which will be released later today -- sponsored by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute think tank and its project offers the following details:

More than 7 out of 10 Americans expect gasoline prices to reach $4 this summer

  • Nine out of 10 Americans report that what political candidates say about fuel prices, energy policy and dealing with climate change will have a big impact on who they vote for

  • Higher gas prices are the #1 economic worry of Americans for 2008 -– ahead of fears about recession, the mortgage foreclose crisis and increased joblessness

  • Over half of Americans will cut back on summer travel plans and 2008 personal spending if gasoline prices reach $4 a gallon.

The survey indicates that many Americans think they are being gouged at the gas pump ... as well as how many drivers will be more even more inclined to buy hybrids, clean diesels and other highly fuel-efficient if gas prices reach or exceed $4 per gallon.

To get the full survey findings: join the live, telephone-based news conference (with full Q&A), dial 1-(800) 860-2442 by 1:30 p.m. ET TODAY (Wednesday, January 30, 2008). Ask for the "$4 gas/2008 elections survey" news event."


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

($)1,000 Reasons for Guarding Your Cell Phone

My father asked me to write this post with 1,000 reasons why we should act promptly after noticing that a cell phone is missing and 1,000 reasons why we should all be careful with our cell phones in public places.

The Scenario: Over the past weekend, my Dad lost his cell phone in a South Beach restaurant. My folks -- who were in town to celebrate my son's Bar Mitzvah -- noticed that one of their cell phones was missing after 10 minutes.

The Action: Immediately, my Dad hit the spin control cycle. He tried to call the phone. But the "new owners" had already turned off the ringer and the calls were going straight to voice mail. My Dad immediately reported the phone missing and had the service terminated.

The Need for Speed Dialing: "The last time we lost a phone, we didn't miss it right away. And in a day and a half, the thieves charged up over $1,000 by calling overseas," my Dad says. Apparently, the number and the phone were quickly peddled to a variety of users. As such, my Dad's cell phone became a traveling pay phone for some dubious entrepreneur. That cell phone hustle gave my father 1,000 reasons for speed dialing when faced with a similar scenario. This time, my parents did not take any chances or waste time hoping that the phone would show up quickly.

The Bottom Line: If you misplace a cell phone in your home, you may have the luxury of playing Hide-and-Seek. In such a private and contained setting, perhaps only the dust mites will eat into your phone bill. But if your cell phone goes MIA in a public setting, take immediate action or else you'll face an expensive game of Tag-You're-It. Here's a great article about lost cell phones from PCWorld: If You Lose Your Cell Phone

Monday, January 28, 2008

Redecorating the Bathroom to Save Money

To save water and energy, I'm giving my bathroom a makeover that will include a new clock and a shower head. There are also various municipal programs that will underwrite a portion of the bathroom makeover if I opt for water-efficient appliances.
A clock for the bathroom is one of several conservation tips from Water -- Use It Wisely, a global water-education program. A clock will remind us to limit showers to less than five minutes, thus saving 1,000 gallons a water a month.

Our family underwent the online Family Water Audit at and scored an encouraging 25 out of 36 points.
Meanwhile, government incentive programs encourage the use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures. Miami-Dade County is offering $100 rebates to consumers who install high efficiency toilets (HETs), which range in cost from $100 to $750, according to Maribel Balbin, a county water efficiency manager. Replacing older toilets with an HET can save up to 29 gallons of water a day. In other parts of the country, there are similar programs. Check with your local government.

Miami-Dade will also replace residents' old shower heads with a new water-efficient appliance. Stop by a local office with your old shower heads (up to two) for replacements. Call 311 for the closest location.

In the Keys, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority has various money-saving incentives for consumers, including a toilet exchange program that offers a $100 rebate for consumers who purchase water-efficient units, said Kerry Shelby, deputy director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Light Bill Doubles Neighbor's: Contest for Reduction Tips!

Our neighbor's monthly electric bill is only half as much as our bill. We're stunned. Our stats are very similar: Both families consist of three kids in a three-bedroom apartment, with lights constantly going on and off. In fact, my neighbor has much younger children, including a pre-schooler. And those little kids often go to sleep with their bedroom lights on. Still that family's bill is so much lower than ours! We have even converted many of our light bulbs to energy-saving CFLs.

There are other families in our apartment building with juiced up electric bills. In our case, we think that the air conditioning unit-- used year-round in Florida -- is the culprit. It's an older unit that may work less efficiently than the newer AC units in the building.

Our dog also runs in and out to the balcony and we could be overtaxing our aging AC unit by constantly opening the sliding glass doors. Oh well.

Earlier this week, my teenage son and I tried to play energy detectives. My son pointed to all of the little standby lights -- on the microwave, on the computer printer -- that are apparently draining our account. We shut down as many green lights as possible. We also found another drain: a pretty glass and wood display case with a cabinet light that's constantly on. That cabinet is now dark. For special occasions, we'll turn the small bulb back on.

Our computers -- usually running -- may also be costing us lots of money. We have three computers in our house, but our neighbor with the lower bill has just one PC. I'm on the computer all day and most of the night and the other two systems are also fired up for homework and entertainment.

When we sleep, we often put the PCs in a sleep or standby mode. That habit will change. We're going to be more diligent about shutting down every system and disconnecting all of the standby lights.

I will also request an energy audit from our electric company. I'm appalled that we're wasting so much money and energy. So please help out. Have you dramatically cut your light bill? If so, please leave a comment with your tips or send me an email.
I'll ship out a bundle of three business books (review copies) to the person who provides me with the best suggestions.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

We Wrote the Thank You Note. It's on the Frig

Saying "Thank You" is good manners, creates good karma and yields business bonuses. And for all of those reasons -- and others -- I should say thank you more often. This post (Thank You) from love, learn and listen could easily describe the Thank You notes that float around my house. Here's what that blogger writes:

"If you have given me a gift and wondered where your Thank You note is, I can tell you. In my house. I write many more Thank You notes than are ever delivered. It's that finishing part that gets me."

It's an area that I'm also working on. In business and personal circles, gratitude is a key ingredient for success, according to many career/personal development mavens. Here's one message I'm memorizing:

"It is important to your success to have gratitude and it is important to your character to show it....Expressing your appreciation for others and other's actions will strengthen your personal and business relationships." --Year to Success by Bo Bennett Day 51, page 90.

Here are reasons why I'm working on showing more gratitude:

1. My embarrassed parents: I feel guilty about all of those overdue Thank You notes that are owed to relatives, family friends and my parents' college buddies. I hate embarrassing my parents, who are excellent role models. (They're great about sending cards and letters). Imagine conversations like this:

Family friend: "Did Sharon ever get that check/gift/card? We sent it, but we never heard from her. Do you think it got lost in the mail?

My parents: Hmmm?!!! We'll call and ask her.

Me: Oh yeah!! Thank You! Thank You. We wrote the Thank You note. It's on the frig behind the Miami Heat magnet. We just need a stamp. (false-note giggle)

2. Business Scenario #1 It feels so inappropriate to ask a business contact for yet another favor, when I haven't properly acknowledged or thanked them for their last act of assistance. And it doesn't matter if my new request represents a win-win situation in which we both gain professionally. It still feels awkward to renew contact with a cloud of unexpressed gratitude.

Contact A: Did you ever get that email I sent you with a few suggestions?

Me: Oh yeah!! Thank You! Thank You! I wrote you a Thank You note. But it's in my email draft file. I just need to spell check it and hit the send button. (false-note laugh)

Contact A: Hmmm... :(

Me: But now that I have you on the phone, I need....

Contact A: Listen. This is not a good time. Can we chat later? Call me in 2010.

3. Business Scenario #2: On the other hand, I have been handsomely rewarded when I have taken the time to write and promptly send a Thank You note. Sometimes, my effort generates a new round of mutual appreciation and on other occasions, my gratitude has been met with additional offers of valuable help or assistance.

Me: Thanks so much for your help.

Contact B: Sure. Glad to help. I loved your note and it reminded me that I know of another editor who is looking for some writers. It's good money and great exposure. I'll forward their email to you.

Me: Wow! Thanks again.


Previous Posts

Why I Collect Pennies: 6 Reasons for Loving Petty Cash
Permanently Altered: How I Avoided Red-Tag Seduction
Money: #1 Problem For Couples: New PayPal Survey
Be Careful on Hotel & Public Computers: Criminal Busted for Major Fraudx


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mint's Holiday Spending Hangover Contest: Shopping Horror Stories Wanted

The folks from Mint sent me this contest info: "Mint wants to pay off your holiday bills! Tell Mint your "holiday debt-ache"story in video or written words and they'll pay up to $5,000 of your holiday debt! Play up the drama, originality, and humor because viewers/readers determine if you qualify to win.

Get friends and family to rate your video/story to increase your chances of winning. Stay tuned at for more information.The contest opens January 31, 2008 and ends March 31, 2008. Two grand prize winners will be awarded on April 15, 2008--one for the best video and one for the best story.

The contest is open to persons 18 years and older in all 50 United States. You do not need to be a Mint customer to enter the contest. Multiple entries are welcome, as long as the entrant uses unique email addresses for each entry. Please read all rules and regulations before entering. Visit for the official rules and regulations."

Why I Collect Pennies: 6 Reasons for Loving Petty Cash

In a world of high finance, my hunt for pennies seems petty. Even my children laugh when I make a big deal about finding a penny on the rug or under a cushion. But my petty cash pursuit is driven by high-finance dreams and lofty personal goals

Here are 6 reasons why I collect pennies

  • # 1 Household purge: I'm not looking to collect enough pennies to become a millionaire, but I am trying to cut through the clutter in my home. As I look for pennies in odd corners, I also tidy up. And while searching for pennies, I've found other valuables around the house: jewelry, important contact information and other useful items.

  • # 2 Small change adds up: My parents once collected $275 in nickles, which served as a handsome gift for my oldest son. Following their example, I've been stashing away loose change from random corners of my home. And while collecting copper pennies, I've also found lots of silver and a handful of bills.

  • # 3 Education: My penny pursuit also provides a personal finance lesson for my kids about the value of accumulation and organization. Related story: My Teenage Son Paid Me 16 Cents To Clean His Room

  • #4 Monetary mind games: Collecting pennies is like performing sit-ups: This financial maneuver warms up my monetary muscles for bigger endeavors. When I'm mindful about pennies, I'm more careful about dollars.

  • # 5 Easy goals: It's so easy to find and collect loose change around the home. Hitting an easy target provides momentum for other achievements.

  • # 6 Hope: It's so corny and it sounds like something from a "Pennies from Heaven" letter in a Dear Abby column. But when I'm feeling depressed about financial, personal, professional or creative goals, finding a penny feels like a rich serving of ice cream. Each penny reminds me that success comes in little steps. I remember that saving and achieving is a constant process and I realize that with each small coin, I'm really richer than I was before.
Previous Posts
Be Careful on Hotel & Public Computers: Criminal Busted for Major Fraud
Happy MLK Day! A News Roundup
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.

Permanently Altered: How I Avoided Red-Tag Seduction

After over a year without new clothes, I recently went shopping for party clothes to wear to an important family event. But four stores and several hours later, I returned home with clothes for my children, but nothing for me. Clearly, my new clothes boycott has permanently altered my shopping patterns. Here's how:

Red-Tag Fatigue: I looked at the sales rack and yawned. In the past, red tags with alleged savings of 60 percent to 75 percent discounts would have made my heart beat faster. But I've done the math and I'm not impressed by red tags. If a garment was originally marked up by 500 percent or 1000 percent over the wholesale price, a 60 percent price shave doesn't sound like such a must-have good deal.

Quality Patrol: Rather than a shopping cart of just markdowns, I was looking for an evening outfit that was stylish, well-cut and affordable. That process takes time. But in the past, I've snapped up clothing that almost fits or almost looks good. I've also spent a small fortune getting clothing tailored to fit my frame. This year, I declined to waste money on near-hits that just sit in my closet or make me look bad.

Is it Really for Me?: One year, at Marshall's I saw a cute outfit that was literally marked down to 50 cents. (Honestly!) It was a two-piece floral cotton outfit that looked sort-of preppy. Wearing that cotton suit with its big fake-gold buttons and white Peter Pan collar, I looked like I should have been lunching with the ladies in Palm Beach. Correction: I looked like a Palm Beach wannabe (a social pretender) in a cheap imitation of a Lilly Pulitzer suit that was poorly cut and soooo not me. Bottom Line: I wasted 50 cents buying an outfit that was affordable, but out of character. I was lured by the 50-cent red tag. This year, a reality check kept me away from the cash register.

Old Clothes Ties: Like a past heartache that won't fade, I'm constantly drawn to the old clothes in my closet. Do I really need to buy a new party outfit? Can I wear something old? Is it possible to update an older garment with new shoes or a hat? Can I buy a new jacket to wear with an older dress? Those were a few of the questions that slowed my progress through the racks.

Wait-and-See: I actually saw several dresses, suits and gowns that I really, really liked. But I left the store empty-handed in order to take time to think about those purchases. It's a wise move and I've promised to sit down at least once while shopping: (I Won't Eat or Spend While Standing Up.) I've made mistakes in the past by making impulsive decisions about clothing, finance and relationships. A wait-and-see attitude forces me to make mindful choices about my money, wardrobe and life.

Need vs. Wants: Of course, I made sure that other family members purchased what they needed and wanted for the party. But when I thought about what I needed, I looked down at my feet. At the end of the day, I went to the parking lot with a $15 pair of leather clogs (marked down from about $60) to replace an old pleather/plastic pair from Payless ($6 on sale) that I had purchased about two years ago. My old shoes were really beat up. I started to leave them on the street for a homeless person, but my children vetoed my plans. Their arguments: 1) No one could fit into my Cinderella shoes and 2) No homeless person would want such a worn pair of slip-on heels.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Money: #1 Problem For Couples: New PayPal Survey

In a 30-day period, money sparks a conflict for almost 6 out of 10 young couples, according to this PayPal survey about love & personal finance.

"PayPal’s Valentine’s Day Survey Proves Money Still Can’t Buy Love
Money continues to cause more arguments than sex among couples in the U.S. and UK

Nearly 60 percent of young U.S. couples surveyed argue over money at least once a month, according to PayPal’s second annual “Can’t Buy Me Love” survey. Meanwhile, issues relating to work and household responsibilities top the list for couples in the UK. In both countries, sex ranked low on the list of couples’ common arguments, coming in fifth. The research, conducted by Ipsos, examined how personal finance issues affect couples and singles in the U.S. and UK.

Arguing about money is not the only difference between U.S. couples responding to the survey and those in relationships across the pond. UK couples are more likely to have separate bank accounts (71%), while about half of American couples share bank accounts.

Other surprising findings uncovered through PayPal’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” survey include:

  • Nearly one in four couples responding to the survey in both countries use online shopping as a way to keep their partners in the dark about their purchases.

  • Women surveyed in both countries agree it isn’t the man’s responsibility to pick up the tab after a dinner date. Women in the U.S. think the man should pay only if he initiates the date. Whereas, women in the UK think splitting the check is polite, regardless of who instigates the date.

  • Traditional “romantic” gifts still top the list of the most popular Valentine’s Day presents given by responding couples in both locations. Cards are the most popular, followed by dinner dates and flowers. After January 28th, special offers and discounts on Valentine’s Day gifts will be available at:


Be Careful on Hotel & Public Computers: Criminal Busted for Major Fraud

If you've ever felt paranoid about checking your personal accounts on a public computer, including a hotel room, your paranoia is well placed. Read this story about a man who lived in luxury by stealing credit card, payroll and banking account info from public computers. Here's the story, which ran earlier this month on PRNewswire-USNewswire.

"Man Pleads Guilty in Complex Computer Fraud Scheme Victimizing Hundreds of Individuals

A Colombian citizen guilty today to a 16-count indictment involving a complex computer fraud scheme victimizing over 600 people, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta for the Southern District of Florida and U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the United States Postal Inspection Service announced today.
R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the SDFL, stated, "Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The Internet is an outstanding tool, but it is vulnerable. Criminals like Bonilla use the Internet to steal our banking and personal data, and then our money. When you travel, please think twice before entering personal or financial data on a public computer."

According to the indictment, Mario Simbaqueba Bonilla, 40, alone and in concert with a co-conspirator, engaged in a complex series of computer intrusions, aggravated identity thefts and credit card frauds designed to steal money from payroll, bank and other accounts of their victims. Much of the identity theft activity - initiated by Simbaqueba Bonilla from computers in Colombia - targeted individuals residing in the U.S., including Department of Defense personnel.

Simbaqueba Bonilla used the money to buy expensive electronics and luxury travel and accommodations in various countries, including Hong Kong, Turks and Caicos, France, Jamaica, Italy, Chile, and the United States.

Simbaqueba Bonilla, as outlined in the indictment and the proffer of facts offered at his guilty plea hearing, engaged in a conspiracy that began with illegally installing keystroke logging software on computers located in hotel business centers and internet lounges around the world.

This software would collect the personal information of those who used the computers, including passwords and other personal identifying information the victims used to access their bank, payroll, brokerage and other accounts online. Simbaqueba Bonilla used the data he intercepted from his victims, who were typically guests at hotels throughout the country, to steal or divert money from their accounts into other accounts he had created in the names of other people he had victimized in the same way.

Then, through a complex series of electronic transactions designed to cover his trail, Simbaqueba Bonilla would transfer the stolen money to credit, cash or debit cards and have the cards mailed to himself and others at Pak Mail and other commercial mailing addresses he opened across the country.

Federal agents arrested Simbaqueba Bonilla when he flew into the United States last August. At the time of his arrest, Simbaqueba Bonilla was flying on an airline ticket purchased with stolen funds, and had in his possession a laptop also purchased with stolen funds. That laptop contained the names, passwords, and other personal and financial information of more than 600 people."
Source: Deparment of Justice


Monday, January 21, 2008

Watch Your Back: I Fought a Ceramic Elephant

I just wanted to buy a little black dress for my daughter, but first I had to fight a ceramic elephant dish and other buy-me, buy me stuff that surrounded the check-out line. It was a battle for my wallet but I made it through the maze of merchandise without spending extra money.

The back story: For the first time in over a year, my family is in the middle of a major shopping spree due to my son's upcoming Bar Mitzvah celebration, with about 200 people. We've saved money, by making our own invitations (DIY Invitations: Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings & Other Formal Parties) and finding a very affordable party site: (Big Party; Small Budget: A Frugal Event Planning Guide: Pt. 1). But I promised my mom and dad, that we would not wear recycled clothes for the event: (Mutiny: Rebellion Against Used Party Clothes: Frugal Event Planning Guide Pt.2). So we went shopping.

Our shopping cart: We've been fairly disciplined and have found great deals. We benefited from store-wide clearance sales. For example, At Marshalls, I found a pretty party dress for my 10-year-old daughter, but getting to the checkout counter was a challenge. There is a single lane -- an airport style line -- that feeds the different cash registers. This long line is hemmed in --on all sides --by stuff: Lots and lots of stuff with red tags. Most of the marked-down merchandise was from the December holiday season and I wanted to bring everything home with me. Here's a list of what I saw at the checkout line:

  • ceramic elephant dish $3.00

  • coffee table book: psychic pets about $12

  • large red serving platters about $5

  • tree-shaped sugar lollipops (a set of 10 for about $6)

  • crossword puzzle books (hardback)

  • box of note cards: $6

  • dining room table $199

  • milk chocolate-covered Oreos $5 for a small container

  • Happy holidays (signs) and wreaths

  • tree ornaments

  • cookbooks

  • an exercise CD $2.50 for a boxed set of two (This item assaulted me in Target.)

Bottom Line: Standing in the checkout line can be hazardous to your wealth.


Previous Posts

Happy MLK Day! A News Roundup

How to Recycle Eyeglasses, Suits & More

6 Ways Going Back to School Can Pay Off

My Dog Dances in the Rain: Why I Want to Live Like Scruffy


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.


Happy MLK Day! A News Roundup

Caught up in preparations for a family celebration, I'm late in acknowledging that today is Martin Luther King Day. But even with the day-to-day pressures of life, it's important to remember the ongoing struggle for political, racial and economic equality for all. Here's a roundup of links, news, blog posts and stories related to the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Is Martin Luther King Jr. Day sacred? (A thoughtful piece from the Chicago Tribune)

From Young and Broke MLK
From Matrix [MLK] Martin Luther King Day

From Consumerist In Honor Of Martin Luther King [PSAs]
From Money and Values Martin Luther King on Economic Justice

Martin Luther King - Biography

The King Center

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute

Economic Policy Institute

The real Dr. King


How to Recycle Eyeglasses, Suits & More

It was a satisfying afternoon. In two hours, I cleared several suits, skirts and blouses from my closet. While in excellent condition, they have languished unworn for too long. Gently used professional outfits as well as eyeglasses and electronics donated to various charities can help those less fortunate.

Eyeglasses: Give the Gift of Sight Foundation,, collects old eyeglasses and frames and provides free eyewear and vision care to poor families worldwide. The foundation has receptacles at various chains including Target Optical, LensCrafters, Sears Optical, Pearle Vision, BJ's Optical and Sunglass Hut and some doctor's offices.
Dress for Success: My unwanted dress suits -- many in excellent condition -- are going to Dress for Success, ( a nonprofit organization that provides business attire to underprivileged women seeking employment.
Recycled electronics: Cellphones collected by Staples and FedEx Kinko's stores are recycled through partnerships with CollectiveGood, a nonprofit that provides low-cost, refurbished phones to consumers in the Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe and India. Staples also accepts electronics, such as digital cameras, pagers and PDAs, which are recycled.
Thrift stores: Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit thrift stores accept donations through drop-offs, scheduled pickups or trucks stationed at shopping centers.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

6 Ways Going Back to School Can Pay Off

Going back to school for a graduate degree can increase your earning power and provide other professional bonuses. In this article (Six Reasons to Return to School in ’08,) writer Vicki Salem outlines why a degree represents a good investment.

A few months ago, I enrolled in a master's program for personal and professional reasons. During informal chats with fellow students, I realized that many of my peers had similar objectives. Here are the six reasons outlined in the article, with my own observations tossed in.

1. New Job; New Career Direction: Many of the fastest-growing careers, require a bachelor's degree or higher. For example, my goal of teaching on a college level requires at least a master's degree.

2. Salary upgrade: Many pay scales are linked to education. Getting a higher degree can lead to a higher paycheck.

3. Better marketability: In a competitive job market, an advanced degree can provide an edge.

4. Personal goals: A few of my classmates enrolled in our master's program just for "personal fulfillment." And honestly, even if I don't go on to teach on a college level, earning a graduate degree still represents one of my personal goals.

5. Networking: The academic community provides an excellent setting for networking, with well-connected experts in different fields. In the writing business, for example, many writing instructors have contacts with editors, publishers and agents. Professors are also excellent mentors and a valuable source of job leads and insights. Classmates are also a bonus.

6. Personal investment: I loved this quote from the article:

"Education is an investment that always pays you back," assures Dr. Susan Aldridge, president of University Maryland University College. "Housing prices may decline and stocks may plummet but an education lasts a lifetime -- bolstering your earning potential, enriching your intellectual life, and paying big dividends in personal satisfaction.”

My other reasons for returning to school:

1. Feedback: I've been working on a short-story collection and I submitted short stories to fulfill some of my class assignments. Getting feedback from instructors provided valuable insights about my work and material.

2. New information: While fulfilling class reading and research assignments, I acquired information, data and insights that were helpful with my assorted creative writing projects. Not only did I enjoy the formal lectures, but I also valued the comments and discussion offered by classmates.

3. New contacts. It wasn't just about career networking. Enrolling in a graduate program helped me to make new friends and to chat with a wide range of professionals that I would never have met otherwise. We all had different backgrounds, but a common interest in a liberal arts education.

My Favorite Posts: Weekly Roundup

Once again, My Two Dollars has posted on a topic that hits me where I live: The rental market. Boston Gal's Open Wallet has an interesting post on rental prices. Here's my weekly roundup of articles that caught my eye.
From My Two Dollars: 10 Tips For First-Time Apartment Renters. My favorite tip from this post:
"3. Talk to the neighbors if you get a chance. If only I had done this at a few of the places that I lived, I never would have moved in. Between finding out about the guy that sings love songs to his old girlfriend at 3am to the chain smoker in the apartment next door, you can learn a lot just by being friendly with one of the neighbors. Ask them what they think of the place, how the landlord is, etc. - get a feel for your new home before you sign anything."
From Mighty Bargain Hunter: Discipline and personal finance: "Successful personal finance requires planning and regular, purposeful maintenance, and that takes discipline."

From Boston Gal's Open Wallet: Home Sellers' Pain Is Renters' Gain: "Savvy renters in struggling markets are playing landlords off each other."

From Chief Family Officer: February: Month of the All-Cash Spending Experiment:"So that's the purpose of this experiment: to see if going to an all-cash system curtails discretionary spending by 10% or more."

From Queercents: Pink & Green Parenting: Lost in the Plastic Rainforest: Greening Your Home: "I knew that having a baby would change my life in unforeseen ways, but there’s one aspect of modern parenting that I was totally unprepared for. Like Mr. Robinson in The Graduate, I have one word for you, potential parents: Plastics."

From Frugal Bachelor: Is the working class left out of bulk buying? "But I have to say I don't totally understand why the bigger package is cheaper per roll. "

From Punny Money: Bought a Diamond in the Last 14 Years? Get Tons of Money From Class Action Settlement: "De Beers, the company which essentially has a monopoly on the world’s supply of diamonds, is settling a massive lawsuit brought against it under allegations of monumental price fixing."


Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Dog Dances in the Rain: Why I Want to Live Like Scruffy

I envy my dog. Seriously, if I could borrow a few traits from my dog, here's what I would tap into:

1. Persistence: If I were my dog, I would never give up when challenged by difficult tasks or missing objects. For example, when Scruffy really wants to locate a toy or a bone, he's persistent until someone in our home obliges. When he wants water, he pushes his water bowl across the room until he gets a refill. I wish I had a fraction of that persistence when building my emergency fund.

2. Love of Repetition: My dog could easily play fetch -- in all variations -- for hours nonstop. He never gets bored with the routine: toss, run, catch, run, toss... I would love to borrow that trait for just one month as I record my expenses. Tracking money can be boring. The routine gets old. But if I could borrow Scruffy's love of routine, I could cut even more fat from my budget.

3. Regular bedtime: Scruffy (pictured above) gets his quota of rest every day. Me? Ha! I run on fumes with my tank on empty. I know that my efficiency and performance would improve if I could be more disciplined about getting R&R. As such, I envy Scruffy's ability to just kickback and relax.

4. Dancing in the rain. My dog dances in the rain. On his hind legs and with his head back, Scruffy loves to catch rain drops that fall from the balcony above ours. He loves storms and dances in delight when the weather is bad. In contrast, when the sky is overcast or when times are difficult, I want to hide under a thick Mickey Mouse comforter with a hot mug of mint tea and a romance novel. Watching Scruffy dance in the rain, however, has taught me to make the most of every moment, even gray wet days in Miami.

Let's Get Real About Money: 8 Tips for Cutting Debt & Saving Money

This guest post spotlights Eric Tyson, author of the new book Let's Get Real About Money! Profit from the Habits of the Best Personal Finance Managers

"Here are a few tips from his new book:

1. Partake in a little self-reflection. A misaligned mindset toward spending and shopping—compulsive or otherwise—can severely affect your financial and personal well-being. If you think you might have a problem with shopping or spending, there are several questions you should ask yourself: Do I feel guilty about shopping? Is my shopping causing financial trouble? Is my shopping, spending, and accumulated debt leading to feelings of helplessness, anger, confusion, fear, or depression? Does the act of shopping and the accompanying interaction with salespeople give me a feeling of worth, importance, and control?
"Compulsive spending is a serious problem, and if you think you have a problem, you should find help immediately," says Tyson. "You won't be able to get rid of your debt until you can figure out what makes you compulsively spend."

2. Make a plan and stick to it. The reason so many New Year's resolutions fail is because we simply state the thing we want to improve on and then never create a plan for helping us get from point A to point B. Most people don't like to plan, unless we're talking about something really fun, like a vacation. But actually, planning for your financial future is a little like planning a vacation. You're organizing your money and time so that you get to do all the great things you want when you get there. Look at it that way and you might actually enjoy the process.

"Planning your finances doesn't have to be a long, complicated, dreary chore," says Tyson. "In the absence of financial goals and objectives, however, most people's finances simply reflect the history and disorganization of their lives. The first step to successful planning is setting some goals. Decide the best ways to make the most of your money and start working on reaching those goals. By reducing your overall spending, taxes, borrowing, and insurance costs and boosting your rate of savings and investment returns, you can turn your financial situation around."

3. Get rid of your four-wheeled debt. Too many people define necessities by what those around them have. A new $30,000 car is not a necessity, although some people try to make it one by saying, "I need a way to get to work." Guess what? There are plenty of far less expensive used cars out there that will also make it to your office! If you take out an auto loan to buy a car that you really can't afford, and you take a similar approach with other consumer items you don't truly need, you're going to have great difficulty saving money and accomplishing your goals. Moreover, you'll probably feel stressed all the time—which is a poor trade-off for the (short-lived) "new car smell."
"There are plenty of perfectly good cars out there that are within your budget and that you can actually pay for with cash," says Tyson. "And trading in your $30,000 option for one of those will instantly help you free up money that you can use to pay off your other debts or invest in your future. Just think about what it would be like to save that $400-$500 each month rather than throwing it away to pay off the loan on your expensive car. Not having a car payment is a very liberating feeling."

4. Start making your purchases based on need, not emotion. It can be easy to give in to all of those advertisements telling us how much we "need" that new car, expensive gym membership, or trendy outfit. Marketers play on insecurities, fears, and guilt and suggest that you can feel better about yourself by buying their products. You won't be able to overcome spending and consumer debt until you recognize these pressures and how they corrupt your buying decisions.

"The goal of consumer product companies and their marketing staffs is to persuade and cajole you into buying what they're selling," says Tyson. "Remember that the next time the thought goes through your mind that you want to buy something that isn't a necessity. It's here, at the point of temptation, when planning out what you can and can't spend comes in very handy. If a product is too expensive for your budget, then you don't need it no matter how much you might want it."

5. Research before you enter the stores. Prior to going shopping for necessities that aren't everyday purchases—say, a new refrigerator—do some research first. (Consumer Reports is a good source.) Your research will help you identify brands, models, and so on that are good values. You don't want to make an expensive mistake.

"When you've checked in with your budget to ensure you can afford it, check various retailers and compare prices," says Tyson. "When you set out to make a purchase, stick to your list. Don't be tempted by all of the other products in a store and don't spend a lot of time wandering around looking at everything. Get in, get what you need, and get out. That's the best way to ensure you won't pick up little things here and there that will throw your finances out of whack."

6. Watch your food budget. Dine out less and keep stock of the groceries you already have. Learn to cook if you don't know how. "Try to keep a healthy inventory of groceries at home. This will minimize trips to the store and the need to impulsively dine out because your cupboard is bare. Try to do most of your shopping through discount warehouse-type stores, which offer low prices for buying in bulk, or grocery stores that offer bulk purchases. Saving on the amount you spend on food will help you put more money toward paying off your debt and eventually setting money aside for investments."

7. Become more energy efficient. Check out opportunities to make your home more energy efficient. Adding insulation and weather-stripping, installing water-saving devices, and reducing use of electrical appliances can pay for themselves in short order. Many utility companies will even do a free energy review or audit of your home and suggest money-saving ideas.

"Thanks to tax law changes, you may also qualify for 'Residential Energy Credits,' which reduce your tax bill," says Tyson. "Energy improvements that may be eligible for this new credit include things such as adding insulation, installing energy-efficient windows and doors, installing solar panels, and so on. This is a great way to save money and the benefits will be two-fold. Not only will you be helping your bottom line, you'll also be reducing your personal impact on the environment."

8. Watch what you are paying for insurance. Many people overspend on insurance by carrying coverage that's unnecessary or that covers small potential losses. Coverage of small losses, such as $100 or $200, is not useful for most people since such a loss wouldn't be a financial catastrophe.

"Take high deductibles on your insurance policies—as much as you can afford in the event of a loss," says Tyson. "Also, be sure to shop around. Rates vary tremendously among insurers. Of course, an insurer's quality of service and financial stability are important as well. Ask insurers and agents selling policies to provide financial ratings for the company's policies you're considering."
"It won't be easy getting out of debt, and it's certainly not something you will be able to achieve overnight," says Tyson. "Like losing weight, it's something that takes constant dedication but has a great payoff in the end. Whenever you lose focus or feel like giving in, just think about the wonderful benefits of financial well-being. Once you're out of debt, the money you are able to invest will mushroom into substantial savings that will allow you to get so much more for your money.

"Best of all is the peace of mind you'll feel," he adds. "Debt is emotionally crippling. It's a prison of your own making. Getting out of debt is your ticket to true freedom, and that's a great gift to give yourself and your family in 2008 and beyond."

# # #
About the Author:
Eric Tyson, MBA, is one of the nation's best-selling personal finance book authors and has penned five national bestseller.

His Personal Finance For Dummies (Wiley) won the Benjamin Franklin Award for the Best Business Book of the Year. He is also the author of Investing For Dummies and coauthor of Home Buying For Dummies and Real Estate Investing For Dummies, among other titles. Eric is a former columnist and award-winning journalist for the San Francisco Examiner."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Using Martial Arts to Save More Money

A few years ago, I studied kickboxing and I'm now back in a Dojo to improve my financial performance. Specifically, Dojo Wisdom for Writers by Jennifer Lawler is a great tool for personal finance. The book uses martial arts concepts to illustrate 100 quick lessons about the writing craft, but many of the tips also apply to personal finance.

Here are a few of my favorite lessons:

Lesson # 1 Get a Teacher

Martial arts application: Martial artists rely heavily on black belt instructors for wisdom, techniques and guidance.

Writing application: "Every writer needs a teacher," Lawless writes. She recommends taking a writing class or finding a mentor for guidance. Books, tapes and industry gatherings also provide insights.

Financial application: Learning about money and personal finance is an ongoing process. I learn from courses, other bloggers, Wall Street professionals and assorted publications.

Lesson # 3 Guard the Centerline

Martial arts application: Martial artists make themselves less vulnerable to assault by "protecting their centerline." The centerline includes sensitive areas such as the abdomen, throat, face and chest. The technique: use your arms and legs to protect the centerline.

Writing application: If writing is important to me, I have to protect my centerline by allocating time for writing, research and planning. Guarding the centerline also involves protecting my self-esteem and avoiding negativity.

Financial application: Preserve the bottom line and protect your financial goals. For example, if my goal is to put more money in an emergency fund, I should avoid wasting money on junk food and clothes that I don't need. Protecting the centerline also involves creating priorities and sticking to a budget.

Lesson # 5 Try Meditation

Martial Arts application: "Martial artists meditate for many reasons. They meditate to empty their minds and to achieve aiki or impassive mind, which helps them respond to threats and challenges." --p. 10

Writing application: Meditation clears the mind for writing and improves focus. Visualization exercises also create useful images of successful writing projects.

Financial application: Mindful living -- which includes meditation -- prompts me to make smarter choices. Specifically, I'm learning to slow down and think carefully before spending money. It's important to be very mindful of the choices and financial goals.

Lesson #7 "Respect your opponent."

Martial Arts application: A savvy martial artist has a healthy level of respect for opposing fighters and avoids make quick judgments founded on deceptive appearances or other assumptions.

Writing application: The writing industry is filled with assorted challenges. Take time to fully appreciate difficult assignments, time management skills and rejections.

Financial application: I try to understand how marketers, credit card companies and stores create pitches to trap consumers into spending more money. Additionally, I try to understand and respect my financial weaknesses. For example, if I have trouble passing up end-of-season sales, I save money by not going to the mall when the sales are in full force.

Lesson # 13 "Discipline leads to strength"

Martial Arts application: The discipline of constant training produces the dividend of stronger muscles, greater flexibility and improved technique for martial artists.

Writing application: The daily practise of writing and rewriting improves creative techniques.

Financial application: Fiscal discipline, budgets and spending limits will strengthen my financial muscles. The more I save, the more comfortable I will become with the process. Discipline builds momentum.

Pretty, Cheap Party Flowers: Frugal Event Planning Guide Pt. 3

You don't have to pay a fortune to decorate a room or a banquet hall for a wedding, Sweet Sixteen or other formal parties. We're tracking down pretty, but affordable floral arrangements for my son's Bar Mitzvah party. Here are some of our options:

  • Wholesale flowers: If you're buying large quantities, it's possible to purchase flowers directly from the wholesalers. Many areas have floral districts where the prices are at a steep discount.
  • Home Depot: Small containers of pretty flowers and plants are available for $1 a container and sometimes less in the garden section of Home Depot. Purchase plants that have been marked down and build decorative arrangements around those flowers. For one formal party, we purchased trays and trays of flowers and then arranged the plants in pretty containers and tissue paper. When the party was over, we encouraged our guests to take the flower pots home and use the plants in their own gardens. We planted the leftovers in our balcony garden.
  • Nurseries: Assorted plants and exotic flowers are also available at cheap prices. What's more, it helps to ask for plants that are about to be discarded or marked down.
  • Call event planners and caterers: Ask about weddings and other formal parties that will be held shortly before your party. Offer to buy either all or a portion of those floral arrangements. After a wedding or other formal party, the flowers are either tossed, donated to charity or given away.
  • Pick the right location/right time: If you're planning a wedding during a holiday season, the hall/party room may already be decorated with festive touches. And some settings --a botanical garden, for example -- require fewer decorative touches.

Here are a few related posts:

Frugal flower arrangements

Tips for Thrifty Weddings & Honeymoons

Big Party; Small Budget: A Frugal Event Planning Guide: Pt. 1

Mutiny: Rebellion Against Used Party Clothes: Frugal Event Planning Guide Pt.2


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Festival of Frugality: Debating Frugal vs. Cheap

Dawn at Frugal For Life hosted this week's Festival of Frugality Week 108: Quotable Edition. Thanks to Dawn for being a wonderful host. It's an excellent round-up! Thanks for including my post in the mix.

Here are a few of the articles that caught my eye:

Previous Posts
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.

Free Financial Planning Advice: Phone and Online through Kiplinger's

Free personal finance advice? I plan to test this program that is now offered through Kiplinger's:
Here's the info:

"Kiplinger's Jump-Start Your Retirement Plan Days, two days of free financial advice BY PHONE (the second day is Friday, January 25, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time) or ONLINE (from now until 6 p.m. eastern time on Friday, January 25) from planners who are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Here's a link with more information:

Normally, these fee-only planners, who are well versed in investments, taxes, insurance, estate planning and saving for college and retirement, charge clients $100 to $250 an hour. But on Jump-Start Days, you don't pay a cent -- not even for the phone call. Just dial 888-919-2345 and a NAPFA adviser will respond to your question. Or, if you prefer, you can submit your question online via the link above from now until 6:00 p.m. eastern time on Friday, January 25."
I will try it out. I have questions about privacy and I wonder if the advisors will try to push any product. But it's worth a shot.


Money From the Wall: Child's View of ATMs & Credit Cards

Money doesn't grow on trees, it comes out of a wall. That's how one child explained finance to his parents, who are friends of mine. Savvy about money, my friends were a bit alarmed about their 9-year-old son's view of money. During a recent car ride, the father told me how he's trying to give his son small doses of fiscal reality.

The Scenario: The wake-up call rang when the 9-year-old proudly announced that he wasn't going to work for a living.

Father: Why not?

Son: I'm going to get one of those plastic cards that you have. When I need something, I'm just going to use the plastic card and sign my name.

The Aftermath: The father, who works in the finance industry, reviewed his shopping and spending transactions. He realized that his son -- an elementary school student -- had closely watched his parents make purchases at restaurants, stores and other locations. From a child's view, the transactions seemed simple: Show the plastic card and receive stuff for free. Why work for money when you have a plastic card?

The Solution: When the next credit-card bill arrived, the father opened the bill with his nine-year-old. Here's their step-by-step financial lesson:
  • The Account Numbers: The father pulled out the family credit card and asked his son to find the numbers on the plastic card. To make the connection between the credit-card statement and the plastic card, he asked the child to match the numbers on the plastic bill with the account numbers on the bill.

  • The Balance Check: The father showed the 9-year-old the monthly credit-card balance. Well-schooled in math, the child was shocked by the large dollar figure. To drive the point home, the father explained that all of the things that had been purchased with the plastic card had to be paid for each month with real money from the family's bank account.

  • The Bank Lesson: The father explained he wrote checks to pay monthly bills, including the plastic bill. That lesson took a while because the son argued that checks were just paper and he could just sign his own papers to pay for the plastic. Next: The dad tried to explain how the banking system worked.
After listening to a lesson about credit, interest and banking, my friend's child nodded and came up with another solution.

"I'll get another plastic card," he told his father: "I'll get the plastic card that makes money come out of a wall."

I'm sure that the father offered a very thoughtful and detailed explanation about automated teller machines, but our car ride ended before he finished telling the story. Meanwhile, I had a lot to think about anyway. I wondered what kind of unspoken messages about money, spending and family finance that I have delivered to my children.


Previous Posts

Mutiny: Rebellion Against Used Party Clothes: Frugal Event Planning Guide Pt.2

Frugal Lessons from Luxury Shoppers: 3 Basic Questions Before Paying

Fourth Grader Joins Flea Market, Hires 4 Employees, Sells Crafts and Prints Money
Full-Time Teacher, Weekend Cook: Part-Time Jobs To Pay Bills

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Frugal Lessons from Luxury Shoppers: 3 Basic Questions Before Paying

High-end consumers can teach us a few things about getting the most for our shopping dollars. That's one of the tips I picked up from the January issue of Town & Country . The shopping rules are outlined below with a few of my comments.

1.Quality counts: "What is the quality and the level of workmanship of this object? Is this crocodile tote bag really worth several thousand dollars?" --Pamela Fiori writes in her Editor's Letter. Frugal Translation: Check the seams. Examine the product. Here are a few questions that I ask myself: Will this tee-shirt really hold up in the wash. Will this skirt look like a rag in a year? Will this dollar store toy be broken in a few days?

2. Consider packaging. T&C comment: "Is the packaging up to the product?" Frugal Translation: Forget the packaging! I don't want to pay for pretty cardboard and extra bows. Just give me a decent product at affordable prices, wrapped in recycled materials.

3. Shop where they treat you well. On this point, T&C delivered a few surprises. It turns out that some super expensive stores have horrible customer service, and that's a major turnoff for wealthy shoppers. In fact, one woman cancelled a huge order at an expensive Madison Avenue store that treated her poorly. "Snootiness and intimidation don't work anymore," the T&C editor writes: "Why can't luxury retailers figure out that the way to a customer's heart is through caring, considerate service. It baffles me."
In contrast, some mass market chains such as J. Crew deliver excellent service. Here's what the T&C editor has to say on this point: "At any J. Crew I have ever shopped in, I have experienced the kind of service that I expect from stores selling products at ten times the price." Frugal Translation: J. Crew, Target and Payless might provide a few tips for luxury retail stores. I never realized that discount shopping was such a luxury.


Mutiny: Rebellion Against Used Party Clothes: Frugal Event Planning Guide Pt.2

It's a frugal mutiny and I've been overruled by higher powers: The Grandparents! My folks -- who have worn recycled fashions to other galas (Recycled Cinderella: Same Outfits, Different Holiday Balls) -- will not let me dress up their grandson in either borrowed, second-hand or gently used clothing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah celebration. And they have wired money -- directly to a seventh -grader -- to make sure he gets a new suit for his upcoming celebration. Thank you M&D!

What's more, the members of my household have loudly vetoed the hand-me down cocktail dress that I had planned to wear for the evening party. I guess I'll have to go shopping. (Sigh!) It'll be the first major clothes shopping outing in our house in over a year. The Result: Part 2 of my Frugal Event Planning Guide: The Clothes Budget is turning out differently than I had planned.

I had a plan to dress us up in borrowed or recycled fashions for the celebration, which includes a day-time religious service and an evening fete. I had planned to write about our borrowed fashions. And besides, we've saved money by making our own invitations: (DIY Invitations: Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings & Other Formal Parties) and selecting an elegant, but frugal party location: Big Party; Small Budget: A Frugal Event Planning Guide: Pt. 1. We've all been on the same page, but I now have a clothes war on my hands.

For the birthday boy, we were going to shop at an upscale consignment store in Coral Gables, a very wealthy community in South Florida. The Rationale: Somewhere in the racks, there would be a suitable dress suit (possibly a designer outfit?) that may have been worn once or twice by another middle-school boy to a formal event. But if my son will feel more celebrated and confident in a new suit and shirt, who am I to argue?

My wardrobe selection included a beaded navy and silver dress, with a jacket. The style is very art deco and the beading resembles the photo on this page. It's a very pretty hand-me down from a friend and I've received compliments when I've worn it before. But I have to admit that my friend last wore the outfit to a party in the early 1990s. And with a few alarming looks my family has given the dress a firm thumbs-down. It doesn't look like me, they say and -- horrors - it's look a little dated and less than gently worn. Okay, so I'll buy a new dress! Twist my arm and make me scream: Ann Taylor, Macy's, Marshall's, Bloomingdales or Saks! I'm there. (There is also a cute consignment store in South Beach that I plan to check out.)

So I've learned these lessons:

  • Be Flexible: Sometimes recycled fashion works; sometimes it doesn't. It's important to keep an open heart and an open mind.
  • Don't embarrass your family

  • Listen to your folks, especially if they offer to pay the bill.
  • Remember the bottom line: The purpose of a party is to celebrate and it's important not to let other issues: clothing budget, frugal planning or other concerns disrupt the party.
  • Have Fun!

And finally, when I have to make a choice between a funny frugal story and my family, the family always comes first.


Previous Posts
Fourth Grader Joins Flea Market, Hires 4 Employees, Sells Crafts and Prints Money

Full-Time Teacher, Weekend Cook: Part-Time Jobs To Pay Bills
How to Get More Value From Your Home
Squeeze In Exercise Without Spending Lots of Time & Money

What Gas Leak? Mom's Nose vs Car Dealer & $49 Service Bill

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.


Shredding Paper, Holding Receipts: Financial Organization Tips

This guest post from Consumer Credit Counseling Service CCCS has great tips about getting our finances organized:

  • "Review your current system. If you pile your bills on a desk and aren’t sure which have been paid and which are still pending, or if you have trouble locating receipts or invoices, it’s time to make a change.
    Start with these basic steps:
  • Save all credit card receipts in one place. A box or file folder is a great place to store this month’s credit card receipts and will give you quick access to compare them to your statement when it arrives. You should keep all receipts at least until you have verified that the charges are correct on your bill. Create a "Receipts to Keep" folder for those receipts for items that may need to be returned or that have a warranty or service plan in effect.
  • Organize your bill paying. Set up a regular time and place to pay bills each month. A good rule of thumb is to coordinate it with you pay schedule. If you are paid on the 15th and 30th, make plans to pay bills at those same times each month. If it makes it easier, you can log your due dates on a calendar. As bills arrive, organize them into "To be Paid" folders and when you pay them, document payment on the statement and file under "Paid."Paying bills online can be a great timesaver. Whether you use your own financial institution or pay through the vendor’s website, you can often schedule the payments to occur on the day of your choosing. Be sure to jot down the confirmation number as proof of payment.
  • Pay off credit cards. Make a log with each of your credit card and credit accounts, and list the outstanding balance for each. Set up a schedule to pay off the ones with the highest interest rates first. When that one is paid off, apply that money to the next card until all balances are paid. Avoid using credit cards to charge more than you can reasonably pay off at the end of the month.
  • Balance your checking account. At least twice a month, reconcile your bank statement to the bank’s records. This can be done in just a few minutes online, checking off what has cleared your account and making sure you have accounted for any debit card purchases or ATM transactions.
  • Review your insurance policies. January is an excellent time to review all insurance policies to make sure you’re covered properly. Review your life insurance policy to ensure it provides adequate coverage for your family. You can save money by raising your deductibles on auto and homeowners, or renters, insurance. Every few years, shop rates, comparing policies point for point.
  • Tax organization. While you’re pulling together information to file last year’s taxes, note which categories have the most activity. Make specific folders for such things as out-of-pocket medical and drug costs, work-related expenses like travel/mileage if not reimbursed, educational costs, etc. Designate one location for all tax information and keep up with filing regularly. Next year, the tax-preparation process will be much easier because all the records and receipts have been kept together.
  • Shredding – purge old files and shred the contents to protect yourself from identity theft. Keep a shredder near your desk and deal with incoming mail immediately. While you should check with your accountant about how long financial records should be retained, a good rule of thumb is to keep tax records and credit card statements for seven years. Keep pay stubs until you get your year-end tax forms, and keep key banking information permanently.
  • Check your Credit Report. Consumers can request a free copy of their credit report from each of the three bureaus each year. Set up a regular schedule to get reports from . A good rule of thumb is to get the report from one bureau in January, another in May, and the third in September. Notify the bureaus immediately if you find any errors or unusual activity, such as accounts you did not open."

source: Consumer Credit Counseling Service CCCS



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